Barack Obama for President
The utter failure of Operation Clark County – The Guardian’s ludicrous and patronising 2004 scheme to influence the outcome of the American election by mailing Ohioans, asking them to vote for John Kerry – showed why foreigners should by trepid when seeking to interfere in the United States’ internal affairs. But to echo an odd phrase Elie Wiesel once used, I cannot not tell you something: that Barack Obama requires four more years in office, and that Mitt Romney’s candidacy has rendered him incredible.
The case for Obama
President Obama’s first quadrennial has not been without its disappointments, particularly his inability to fulfil the promise to change the very nature of Washington politics. Much time has been lost, particularly in the previous two years, to intransigence and partisan squabbling and grandstanding. The Republican Party must be faulted for this, but the President is an independent, essential actor too. Reforming the immigration, Medicare/aid, and Social Security systems in addition to passing environmental legislation like cap and trade are required for America’s advancement into the twenty-first century, and Obama has failed to achieve these things as far.
Nevertheless, Obama’s first term has been transformative in myriad ways. First and foremost, Obama prevented the United States’ slide into a massive economic depression by passing an $800 billion stimulus package, the American Investment and Recovery Act, and guaranteeing the future of the automotive industry through investment and restructuring. The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with the aim of ensuring that the American people are never duped again by small print and banks and credit agencies act more transparently.
Obama’s other significant achievement was the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which makes the best of a bad system by expanding healthcare coverage to 30 million more Americans. It also provides essential guarantees for ordinary Americans that the private sector could not or refused to do on its own, including mandating coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowed under-26s to stay on their parents’ insurance.
No president has done more the advancement of equal rights for homosexuals than Obama. He shepherded through the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, allowing LGBT citizens to serve openly in the military, and his Justice Department has ceased to uphold the constitutionality of the Defence of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Obama has also become the first sitting president to publicly endorse the idea of same-sex marriage.
On women’s rights, Obama has made some important advances. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay, Obama’s first piece of legislation, removed the statute of limitations on employees suing their companies in gender discrimination cases. His Department of Health and Human Services has mandated free coverage in private insurance for contraceptives, expanding access for millions of American women as part of preventive care.
In terms of foreign policy, Obama was correct to show a little humility in order to rebuild bridges in Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, regions in which President Bush’s personality did not travel well and his reckless persona did much to damage key bilateral relationships. Obama’s focus on international terror and away from traditional nation-on-nation conflicts enabled the elimination of both Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, and the reduction in the capability of al-Qaida, while a shift against American unilateralism and towards multi-national coalitions through the United States forced the international community to live up to its responsibility to protect, preventing genocide in Benghazi and resulting in the fall of Colonel Gaddafi. Also in the Middle East, Obama handed sovereignty over Iraq back to its people by concluding the withdrawal of American armed forces, and the troops will be home from Afghanistan by and large by 2014.
The case against Romney
Governor Romney, it should be noted up front, deserves a good deal of credit for two major accomplishments during his brief career in public service. The first is his turnaround of the 2002 Winter Olympiad, which he helped transform from being a loss-making initiative plagued by disgraceful levels of corruption into a profit-making venture which placed Salt Lake City on the map and showed the best of America’s spirit and endeavour. The second is the conception and implementation of the Massachusetts healthcare reform law, fashioned on a bipartisan basis, which extended coverage to over 99% of residents of the Commonwealth through a variety of means including an expansion of Medicaid for children and the individual mandate.
These two undertakings are indicative of a man who should be kind, compassionate, and moderate. It is a shame, therefore, that Romney has demonstrated himself to be none of these things during the course of this campaign. Instead, his brazen hypocrisy, his flip-flops, missteps, and the extreme policy positions he took up during the primary campaign then dumped minutes before the first debate – all actions celebrated by Media as good politics – shows that above all Romney is a politician absent of any core convention. He is a man who will do or say anything to be elected to the highest office in the land, telling his base during the primary campaign that he’s a ‘severe conservative’ before reinventing himself as a centre-right Republican for the country at-large without warning. He has been weighed in the balances, and has been found wanting.
Romney has presented himself as the candidate best suited to reducing the deficit and moving the United States towards balanced budgets and economic growth. His tax plan, however, seeks to slash rates by 20 percent across the board, paid for by removing the kinds of deductibles Americans rely on. This, the Tax Policy Center has concluded, would reduce the burden on the richest in society while raising effective rates on the middle class. Romney also speaks of broadening the base, which for some reason enables Republicans to get away with calling for a tax increase on the working poor. Romney is also proposing to spend an extra $2.3 trillion on defence over the next eight years, a move the Pentagon has not requested.
Such moves would in fact increase total government outlay, and thus in order to balance the budget, Romney would be required to slash discretionary spending and severely undermine the practicability of critical welfare programmes including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. His choice of running mate, Paul Ryan, certainly indicates that this is the direction in which he wishes to go. Medicare would be altered from being a universal benefit into being a premium support system, where the elderly are forced out into the marketplace to pay private insurance with a fixed amount of aid from the federal government. Medicaid would be turned into a block grant programme and returned to the states. Romney has also pledged to repeal Obamacare on day one, but has suggested no reasonable alternative that would keep in place the expansion of coverage to millions of Americans.
Romney has also shown himself to be a lightweight on foreign policy, fumbling an easy trip to the United Kingdom and Israel by questioning the former’s readiness to host the Olympic Games (which turned him into a punching bag for the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London) and suggesting in Jerusalem that it was culture, not the occupation, that held back Palestinian economic development. Indeed, Romney has tended to use foreign affairs as a means to attack the administration, stating Obama has ‘thrown Israel under the bus’ even when both Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres insist relations have never been closer, and playing politics with the deaths of four American attachés in Benghazi when the cadavers were still warm.
He appears, too, to have little understanding of the very nature of international relations, tagging Russia as the United States’ premier ‘geopolitical foe’ during a period of relative rapprochement between the two nations, ignoring the fact that Iran does far more to harm US interests in the region and internationally through its terror networks. Romney has no unique foreign policy on the major questions facing the United States including in the Middle East, and when he does his ideas are downright reckless. Labelling China a currency manipulator during his first hours in the Oval Office would in all likelihood begin a trade war. The one thing the United States does not need at this time is an economic conflict with a major trading partner.
The next four years
During the coming presidential term, whoever is in the Oval Office will be faced with a great many tests, both domestic and foreign. At home in the immediate, the President must cooperate with Congress to come up with a fair package of spending reductions and tax increases in order to avoid the swingeing sequestration cuts which will do a great deal of harm to both the defence and Medicare programmes.
In the medium term, the president will need to pioneer reform programmes for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in order to ensure their viability well into the future in a manner that does the least possible harm to current and future recipients of federal aid. Superfluous defence programmes, boondoggles and the like, must be curtailed. Immigration reform is also a priority, to resolve the status of the 12 million or so illegal aliens presently in a condition of limbo. Tax reform must be negotiated as a revenue-neutral endeavour in the short term, except for the wealthiest of Americans, on whom a tax increase is indeed to help shrink the budget deficit. At the same time, it is clear that the United States needs to invest in its infrastructure once more to repair and replace various roads, bridges, and mass transit systems which are showing their age.
Internationally, the Middle Eastern crucible presents numerous challenges to the United States. Iran must be contained or surrender its nuclear ambitions entirely, by force or otherwise. Iraq must be aided to ensure it does not become entrenched within Iran’s sphere of influence. Advances in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt must be consolidated and protected. The Assad regime in Syria must be concluded and a safe and orderly transition to some sort of free and stable government initiated. And, above all, the Israel-Palestinian conflict must be brought to a conclusion through the reigniting of bilateral talks with a view to formulating a two-state solution.
Then there’s (arguably) our most pressing national security challenge: preventing Pakistan from going rogue, allowing its nukes to roam loose in the hands of terrorists and stopping the advance of the ISI-aided Taliban in their bid to re-conquer Afghanistan. In the western hemisphere, it looks like Cuba is advancing towards a condition of liberalisation, and the United States should encourage it by reopening relations with the island. On top of all of that, there’s the so-called Asia-Pacific pivot: protecting American allies and interests in the region including Taiwan while continuing amicable relations with China. And of course the dual debt and currency crises in Europe could just sink us all.
Based upon what Mitt Romney has shown us of himself, I do not trust him to secure America’s future in a manner that is just, equitable, and reasonable at home, and builds relationships, protects America’s interests, and advances the right values abroad. Barack Obama’s record indicates, by contrast, that he would be best suited to guiding America through the next four years.